In my humble opinion

Have I stayed too long at the fair?

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 8/25/21

So for something completely different, I have a song stuck in my head. I know, it happens a lot. I guess it’s just how my feeble brain works. It’s just that I’ve listened to a lot …

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In my humble opinion

Have I stayed too long at the fair?

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So for something completely different, I have a song stuck in my head. I know, it happens a lot. I guess it’s just how my feeble brain works. It’s just that I’ve listened to a lot of music over my lifetime and some of it has stuck in my gray matter, much to my chagrin.  

If you think it’s annoying for y’all, imagine how I must feel. And whether I know it or not, I’m pretty sure that there’s always a reason, even when I can’t actually “name that tune.” There are times when I have no clue why a particular song is playing over and over. It’s called an “earworm” and I’ve written about that before, but on other occasions, music plays in my head like the soundtrack to an imaginary film about my life. There’s a song for that, too, called “The Movie in my Mind,” from a Broadway show, “Miss Saigon,” but I digress.

No mystery this time, I actually went to a fair. The Delaware County Fair (to be precise) in Walton, NY, where Thunder 102 radio’s Paul Ciliberto and I were invited to judge the always-popular karaoke contest, featuring a slew of kids, teens and adults, all competing for cash prizes and cool (IMHO) trophies, not to mention a year’s worth of bragging rights. Cue the soundtrack, featuring (uh huh) Barbra Streisand.

Along with Patti Page, Nancy Wilson, and Bernard Purdie (whoever he is), Streisand recorded Bill Barnes’ plaintive, not-so-subtle metaphorical ditty in 1963, which is undoubtedly when I first encountered it, as my parents were gaga over La Streisand and she was often heard warbling in the den, as they drank martinis and smoked Pall Malls.

I heard Barbra’s intro as we pulled into the lot at the fair, instantly recognizing the tune and knowing that it wasn’t really about deep-fried Oreos or prize-winning cattle at all. “O dear, what can the matter be? O dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”

Streisand chose the old nursery rhyme to open the door to her version and the haunting words did not escape my attention.

Fact is, I’ve been going through some stuff for a few years, and I’m not the first person to interpret the lyrics in a deeper, more meaningful way. To prove my point, I looked up the song online as we took our seats to begin judging the competition. “Clearly” I read, on something called www.kobygould.com, “as you’ll realize when you listen to the song, it’s not literally about staying too long at the fair.”

“I wanted the music to play on forever, have I stayed too long at the fair?” were the first words to whisper in my demented mind. “I wanted the clown to be constantly clever, have I stayed too long at the fair?”

“Am I the clown?” I wondered. Sighing softly to the Dharma the Wonder Dog, I turned my attention to the karaoke contest emcee.

Jeff Wood and his wife Wendy (Northern Star Productions) know what they’re doing. A long-time prize-winning karaoke singer himself, Jeff opened the show for the audience and fellow judges—karaoke legends Patrick Coleman and Mary Francis Perricone—with Tom T. Hall’s “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.” Wood was highly entertaining on-stage throughout, introducing the contestants with style, flair and a down-home sincerity that really struck a chord with me, while Wendy manned the controls.

My mind drifted a bit while the votes were being tabulated between categories and the Streisand song haunted my reverie, as I ruminated about my failing health. “The merry-go-round is beginning to slow now, have I stayed too long at the fair?”

I photographed the contestants and kids enjoying the show under the tent. As their parents looked on, oblivious to my sadness and personal pain, I turned my attention to the task at hand, judging without being judgmental, and I selfishly thought about my personal problems while Barbra continued to taunt me. “No, daddy dear, you never could have known” she sang, “that I would be successful yet so very much alone.”

Jeff and Wendy handed out the prizes as folks applauded wildly, and the singers (whose names I couldn’t keep straight in my clouded brain) beamed with delight. “I wanted to live in a carnival city with laughter and love everywhere.” Doing my best to grin back at them, I was distracted, but pleased to see everyone so happy and full of life, which is something I’ve been missing for a while.

“I wanted my friends to be thrilling and witty, I wanted somebody to care,” Barbra sang, as if reading my mind. I shook hands, congratulating the winners and doing my best to hide my melancholia. “The music has stopped and the children must go now, have I stayed too long at the fair?” As Ciliberto and I said our goodbyes, the last strains of the song echoed in my head. “The merry-go-round is beginning to taunt me, have I stayed too long at the fair? There is nothing to win and there’s no one to want me, have I stayed too long at the fair?”

For more photos of the karaoke contest at the Delaware County Fair, like us on Facebook.

Note: If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or mental illness, go to www.naminys.org or call 845/794-1029.

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